It’s a Small World

Container Gardens Are the Perfect Fit Anywhere   By Kelly Tunney

What’s holding you back from digging a hole and adding a perfectly peaceful aquatic paradise to your backyard? Is it the price? The size? The uncertainty of it all? Will you even like adding water gardening to your list of outdoor hobbies? How do you make a transition into the wet and wild world of water gardening? Container gardens.

Container Water Garden - dripping pot

The Perfect Fit

For people with small backyards or a simple porch, sometimes a container garden is the only way to get their water garden fix. For some, it can lead to the dream of a big yard and a bigger water garden. There are several types of small water gardens available to potential water gardeners.
“A tub garden or container water garden is only limited by the actual container you can find, as long as it holds water,” Simon Seah, NurseryPro Technical Coordinator, said. “I’ve seen some unique set-ups using bathtubs or even a boat sealed up and planted with aquatics.”



We’re not suggesting you drag your bathtub out to the yard, but there are many different containers that can work in your garden, if you’d like to make your own. Pails, terra cotta pots, whiskey barrels, and urns can be used, as long as they’re treated with a sealant or has some kind of liner keeping the water in place and, of course, no holes! The bigger the better – anything that will hold water.
Pick the container, check for holes, put liner or sealant in it, making sure both are fish and plant safe. Next, put the container in a safe spot in your yard. Fill it with water, making sure that you declorinate it, so that plants and fish (if you plan on adding them to your garden) will be healthy.


Buy It

If you aren’t the handy type, there are several types of container water gardens on the market today. The mainstream is a whiskey barrel and liner tub that you can get as a kit from virtually any type of garden center or home improvement store. Some of these come with pumps, fountains, tubing and hardware, and installation is a snap.


Planting Your Feet

Plants can turn any boring container garden into a gorgeous work of art, if you know what you’re doing. You’ll want to go with water plants that you really like and are pleasing to the eye. “A container garden can be nothing more than a giant planter for lotus, which has an awesome look,” Seah said.
If you’re a beginner and just want to get your hands dirty with plants, Seah suggests a more simple approach. “Depending on size, a small, pygmy water lily might be your best bet, although some people will still use a regular water lily,” Seah said. “Mix it up with marginals and a floating plant or two. This simple combo can easily fill up the entirety of a whiskey barrel-type container garden.”


Fishing For Answers

Will you be able to add fish, like in a regular water garden? It really depends on what you think is best. A 20-gallon container is going to go through extreme temperature fluctuations … cooling and heating with the night and day.
“A goldfish in a heavily-planted container water garden can suffice as the plants shade 90% of the surface area and keep the tub cooler,” Seah said. “A one-foot koi might look a little funny in 15-20 gallons of water.”
Seah suggests throwing Gambusia (mosquito fish) into your container garden because they can tolerate warm water quite well. Be careful, though. Gambusia reproduce quickly and are banned in certain places because they could escape into natural waterways. From your container garden into the lake? It could happen if you get to many and decide to release the extras into nature.
Small fantails will also be a good fit for your water garden, and if you happen to have a larger container, you can even consider a comet or shubunkin.


What About Mosquitoes?

While many container gardens do just fine without a filter or fountain, it’s always best to have some circulation in place, a small pump may be attached to a small fountain head or may simply sit at the bottom, shooting a stream of water vertically to give a gentle turbulence at the surface. A sponge prefilter or even an aquarium bubbler may also do the trick to keeping your water moving.
You’ll also want to steer clear of still water because of the risk of mosquitoes. If you have some kind of agitation in your water, you will usually have less mosquito larvae hanging around your container garden. You’ll also want to check with your local municipality to see if you can be fined for having standing or still water on your property. With the threat of the West Nile virus being so prevalent these last couple of years, it’s worth it to be educated. Fish in your container water garden would take care of any larvae that hatch there.


General Maintenance

When it comes to container gardens, maintenance is as easy or as hard as you want to make it. “Many of the small containers are small enough that you may use a garden hose to top it off, “Seah said. “And if there’s no fish, you may use it to overflow the system for severe cleaning.”
You may not need to clean your container garden, but if debris does accumulate, you can use enzyme-based products. Enzymes quickly reduce the amount of sludge build up and are gentle on your aquatic life.
Remember, you will have to keep an eye on your container garden to watch out for evaporation, especially in warmer climates that can have high temperatures. Plus, warm water can be as detrimental to your fish as freezing water is if you aren’t careful. If you’re in an area that is prone to heavy rainfall, you’ll also want to watch out for overflowing.
To keep your system healthy, you can add beneficial bacteria, although it isn’t necessary. If algae ever takes a hold of your garden, you can also use a flocculant, a safe and natural product. Chemicals can harm your fish and plants and deter other wildlife from visiting your container aquatic garden.


What If I Already Have a Water Garden?

You can never have too many water gardens. Water gardeners everywhere use container gardens to add a little more to their deck or patio and to help them learn about new plants. Container gardens are also a great way to teach kids about nature and can be a great starter pond for any young children interested in water. Prices for container gardens are reasonable and they can be a great pond learning experience for all ages!
Be careful, however, because once the water gardening bug has bitten you, there’s no going back! Next step, preformed pond or micro-mini kit, then on to a larger water garden. Next thing you know, you’ll be living on a houseboat. Okay, maybe not, but you never know what can happen when you just add water.

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Author: Bobby Kenyon
Bobby Kenyon is the Creative Solutions Guru for C.E. Pontz Sons who has over a decade plus experience in the Landscape & Water Garden industry . He enjoys long walks on the beach and grocery shopping but has a strong dislike for regular cake and off brand paper towels

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